Kevin McNelly: Delivering Medical Products, Stat!

Kevin McNelly always keeps an eye on the future.

As vice president, supply chain at biotechnology company MedImmune Inc., he must keep materials and finished goods flowing to meet demand for the company’s current products.

But he also must make sure that, when the time comes, everything will be in place to satisfy customers with products that are still under development.

Based in Gaithersburg, Md., MedImmune creates antibodies and vaccines designed to help prevent and treat infectious diseases, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. It currently markets four products, and has nearly two dozen product candidates in the pipeline. The firm has facilities and customers around the world.

“Due to our solid pipeline, and where the company is heading, we have to look out three to five years to make sure we have the infrastructure and the capability to support future needs,” says McNelly, who joined MedImmune in July.

That means lining up sources for the top-quality materials, packaging, and specialized equipment MedImmune needs to manufacture these products in the future. It also means predicting how the market will receive these medications and vaccines once they’re available, so the company can optimize its inventory.

One of McNelly’s current mandates is to develop a supply chain strategy to meet the needs of a global corporation with long product lead times and extremely high quality standards.

In its early stages, this undertaking “is a fact-based process,” he says.

“We’re looking at how we do business today, we’re looking at the requirements of our customers, we’re looking at the requirements of the supply chain. And we’re developing a strategy that meets those needs.”

While he takes the long view, McNelly can also respond fast to an immediate crisis, such as the one that arose while he was working in the orthopedics division of medical device manufacturer Smith & Nephew, Memphis. When terrorists stuck New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, McNelly and his team swung into action to get hospitals the goods they needed to treat the injured.

“We actually had sales reps in the New York hospitals,” McNelly recalls. “We set up a small war room to find out what was going on. We stayed in contact with some of our sister divisions that provided products to treat burn patients.

“The challenge was getting together the right products, finding a way to get them to the New York and Washington areas, and moving them there quickly,” he says.

By late afternoon, McNelly says, “we found a truck and two volunteer employees who drove through the night.” By morning, they were unloading products in New York.

At MedImmune, still working to deliver goods that protect and prolong life, McNelly knows he’s successful when he sees his operation evolve.

“I have to feel that what I’m doing moves us in a positive direction toward our vision or strategy,” he says.

“To constantly think out of the box, be able to paint that vision, get people to understand it, and help drive toward it—if I go home at night and feel I’ve gotten closer to achieving those goals, it has been a successful day.”

The Big Questions

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I like to spend time with my family. I also enjoy golf, wine, music, and cooking.

Ideal dinner companion, past or present?

There are two: Albert Einstein and Ronald Reagan.

Business motto?

Satisfy the customer.

What’s in your briefcase?

My computer and the book Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic, by Gina Kolata.

Anything in your career you’d do differently if you could?

Early in my career, I would have tried to take an international assignment.

Technology you couldn’t live without?

At Smith & Nephew, our sales reps used handheld technology to place orders and transmit them back throughout the day. That system got me hooked on handheld technology, which has evolved to where I’m now addicted to the BlackBerry.

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